MORE STATE HEALTH DEPARTMENTS LINK RECENT VAPING-HOSPITALIZATIONS TO THC
September 24, 2019
Almost all of the recent vaping-related hospitalizations in Connecticut and Utah are linked to the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products according to the Connecticut and Utah state health departments.
As of September 16, the Utah Department of Health noted 60 percent of individuals “self-reported vaping nicotine” and 90 percent “self-reported vaping THC.”
The Utah Public Health Laboratory tested 39 vaping devices: 51 percent contained e-liquid nicotine and 49 percent contained THC. Moreover, 100 percent of nicotine-containing liquids “contained nicotine and none have shown unexpected compounds.” On the other hand, 90 percent “of the THC cartridges contained Vitamin E acetate.”
Similarly, the New York Department of Health found “very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed.” Vitamin E acetate is currently being examined to determine its link to the hospitalizations. This is especially noteworthy in New York, because vitamin E “is not an approved additive for New York State Medical Marijuana Program-authorized vape products.”
As of September 19, the Connecticut Department of Public Health had “interviewed 9 of the 13 patients with vaping-related injury.” All nine patients reported using THC products. Six patients admitted they had purchased the THC-containing devices from another person. One individual bought his weed pen from a dispensary, another purchased their device from an unregulated store, and one claims they were given the THC device by a friend. Three of the nine patients “reported using e-cigarette products containing nicotine, in addition to products containing THC.”
These recent findings mimic earlier findings. The Oregon Health Authority reported an individual who died in July 2019 “had recently used an e-cigarette or vaping device containing cannabis.” The Minnesota Department of Health reported an individual died from a “lung injury [that] was associated with vaping illicit THC products.”
In late August 2019, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services noted 89 percent of patients “reported using e-cigarettes or other vaping devices to inhale THC products, such as waxes and oils.”
Additionally, a report in The New England Journal of Medicine analyzed vaping-related hospitalizations in Illinois and Wisconsin. Of the 53 patients examined, 84 percent “reported having used [THC] products in an e-cigarette device.”
It is imperative that lawmakers understand the vast majority of vaping-related illnesses are associated with unregulated, and in some states, illegal products.
Unfortunately, Michigan and New York have already imposed bans on the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. Illinois has introduced a bill that is expected to be heard when lawmakers return to Springfield in the fall. Lawmakers in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and South Carolina are considering similar legislation.
Banning flavors in e-cigarette products will have disastrous effects and will likely produce a flourishing black market. In short, bans on flavors will not stop the onslaught of THC-associated hospitalizations. Even worse, flavor bans unfairly punish adult ex-smokers who prefer flavors.
A 2015 study of 27,343 American adults noted 72 percent of respondents “credit[ed] interesting flavors with helping them quit.” A 2018 survey of nearly 70,000 American adults found that 83.2 percent and 72.3 percent of survey respondents reported vaping fruit and dessert flavors, respectively, “at least some of the time.”
Despite a constant and concerted fearmongering campaign perpetuated by the media and policymakers, the vast majority of vaping devices sold in convenience stores and vape shops are regulated. Since 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had the authority to regulate such products. In 2016, FDA issued deeming regulations that extended the agency’s authority over e-cigarettes and vaping devices. Since 2016, all e-cigarette products must complete a lengthy and expensive process known as a “premarket tobacco product application.” Additionally, FDA required all e-cigarette products be registered with the agency by December 31, 2016.
As more states link vaping-related hospitalizations to the use of unregulated THC-cartridges, it is disingenuous and counterproductive for lawmakers to place restrictions and/or bans on products that have helped an estimated three million Americans quit smoking. E-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes and twice as effective as traditional nicotine replacement therapy. Rather than restrict adult access to e-cigarettes and flavors, policymakers should address the use of illegal and unregulated products and how to reduce youth use of such products.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute or Tobacco Harm Reduction 101.